Weekly Photo Challenge – Up

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These are a few pictures that I have shared before but fit together so well with this theme.  It’s so true that we rarely take time to look up but when we do it can be magical.  Ten things I have seen by looking up:

  1. Clouds racing across the sky.
  2. An eagle being chased by a blackbird.
  3. Clouds morphing from one thing into another.
  4. Glimpses into other people’s lives.
  5. The beauty of days past.
  6. The creativity of someone now long dead.
  7. Unintended glimpses up someone’s skirt (I was at the bottom of the Eiffel Tower trying to take a picture – completely unintentional).
  8. Crazy geometrical shapes.
  9. The arms of trees reaching out  to each other.
  10. And very occasionally, because you really have to be in the right space, the hand of God.

And here are a few new shots of “up”.

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And the unintentional photo in Paris…

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Beauty, Sorrow and Strangeness at English Bay

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English Bay is a beautiful part of Vancouver.  Anyone who has walked along its shore in the spring or summer sun can attest to that.  For me, English Bay holds lovely memories, but some strange and disturbing ones as well.  I will start with the saddest one.  My aunt and uncle owned a home in Kitsilano which is directly across from the English Bay beach.  When I was little, we would go to their house often and that always meant a walk with one of my cousins to the beach.  I would stick my toes in the water and kick and splash in the direction of English Bay.  I would wonder if it was possible to swim from one side to the other.  Those are good memories.  Sadly, my cousin John, named for my dad, got caught up in the drug scene.  It was the 60s and drugs were ubiquitous. One evening we got a phone call that John had been found dead of an overdose on the beach looking over to English Bay.  It was a long time before we went down to that beach again – years in fact.  And for some reason that I still don’t understand and my dad never explained, we stopped going to my aunt and uncle’s house.

But not all my memories of English Bay are bad ones.  The one and only time I was in a parade was along English Bay.  I was a member of a synchronized swimming team and we were asked to join the parade.  We all sat in our team swim suits in the back of a truck and waved to the people lining the street.  One time, I was invited to join a group of people in a million dollar condo that faced out towards the water.  We spent a very pleasant evening watching the Symphony of Fire – a fireworks competition that the city of Vancouver held every year.

Sometimes strange things would occur too.  Back in 1984, I was getting ready to head off to work in Japan for at least one year (I didn’t know then that it would extend to three).  I was scared to be dropping everything and moving to a country I had never seen before.  I was sad leaving family and friends behind.  And I was overwhelmed trying to pack up my life in the space of 2 weeks before I had to climb on a plane.  My very best friend in the world, Leslie, took me down to English Bay one afternoon, to go for a walk.  As we walked along the shore, I told her how I was feeling – it all came pouring out.  At the end of it, I had a wave of sadness wash over me because Leslie and I had not gone a week without doing something together – hanging out, going for a drive, visiting her family or mine, since we were 19 – four years before.  We were both sad that we wouldn’t see each other for at least a year.  As we walked in silence, I saw something lying on the beach in front of us.  We walked over to it and peered down.  It was a full set of dentures.  For some reason that just struck us as hilariously funny and we both laughed until we couldn’t breath and tears were running down our cheeks.  That broke the mood for both of us, and I was able to shake off the blues and to see the adventure that lay in front of me.

Something I also find strange is the Inukshuk that the city placed there just before the 2010 Olympics.  An Inukshuk is an Inuit sign post.  As far as I know, the Inuit people were never indigenous to Vancouver.  Perhaps the city was tired of totem poles.  I hope not – they are beautiful and indigenous.

I still visit English Bay when I go to Vancouver.  It is still lovely and sometimes still strange…when Nick and I were there a few weeks ago we spotted a sailboat washed up onto the shore.  It had been lovely weather for days – no storms or wind.  Yet there it was.  I took the time to snap a photo, but never knew the story.

Gentrification on Commercial Drive

I grew up in Vancouver.  It was a great city to grow up in – as safe as any city could be, beautiful scenery, lots of interesting nooks and crannies to explore – Chinatown, Steveston (where the Japanese kept their fishing boats), Broadway (the Greek neighbourhood), Kitsilano (where the ‘hippies’ hung out), but my favourite was Commercial Drive – the Italian neighbourhood.

When I was an elementary school student, my parents would drive the 30 minutes that would take us from the North Shore to 1st and Renfrew where the Economart store stood and where my parents bought all our non-perishables.  This was on the edge of the Italian neighbourhood, only blocks from Commercial Drive.  If I didn’t whine or moan about how long the shopping was taking, my parents would wind up the shopping trip by going to Commercial Drive for ice cream.  Today, I know that what we were getting was actually gelato, but to my very Anglo-Irish parents who at that time didn’t even know what spaghetti was, gelato was ice cream.  Pretty damn amazing ice cream, but ice cream nonetheless.  While we were walking up and down the Drive, I would listen to the old Italian men arguing outside the coffee bars and to the Italian women chatting while choosing vegetables at the markets out on the street.  I had no idea what they were saying, I just knew that it was loud and exciting, far more exciting than my WASPy family.

Three weeks ago, when Nick and I were visiting Vancouver, we went down to Commercial Drive one morning to have espresso and a brioche for breakfast.  We went into the coffee bar Roma and surrounded ourselves with FIFA posters, the aroma of good Italian coffee, and the sounds of the elderly Italian men as they shouted at the soccer players they were watching on the large screen tv. It was like being back on Commercial Drive in the 1960s or being in Italy.  But when we left the coffee bar and walked along the Drive, what I saw around me were examples of the gentrification of the neighbourhood.  This is a hot button topic in Vancouver these days, particularly in the Downtown Eastside – one of the roughest neighbourhoods in North America but still one with a community.

I know that there are many supporters of gentrification, that neighbourhoods, like everything, change over time, that gentrification can infuse a poor neighbourhood with much needed funds.  But, there are so many reasons that I find gentrification distasteful.  The displacement of the original residents who can no longer afford to live in their own neighbourhood is the key issue in the Downtown Eastside.  Differing needs of the older residents and the newer residents creates conflict, and the smaller condos also increase density.  But on Commercial Drive, the change brought about by gentrification that disturbs me most is the loss of the character and culture of the neighbourhood.  So many of the little shops that catered to the Italian immigrants have been taken over by shops selling designer clothing or trendy antiques.

Yes, there are still some Italian restaurants, but there are many others that have been replaced by Vietnamese, Indian, Chinese, Cuban, Japanese, Salvadorean, and Ethiopean restaurants.  Please don’t misunderstand me.  I have nothing against Vietnamese, Indian, Chinese, Cuban, Japanese, Salvadorean or Ethiopean restaurants, people or culture.  I simply miss the wonderful feel of the Italian neighbourhood that Commercial Drive used to be.  <Sigh>.  I guess I am just stuck in the past.

Totems and Dishwashers

Totems and Dishwashers

One of the places we visited in Vancouver was Stanley Park. This is a must see if you are in Vancouver and I can’t even guess how many times I have been there. When I was a university student I would often drive through the park and stop and sit on the seawall and watch the water. All my worries and anxieties about school and lack of money and boyfriend trouble would pack up and leave as the smell of the ocean drifted up my nostrils and the wind off the water blew my hair around my head.

When I was in my third year at the University of British Columbia, I joined the rowing club. We would train early early in the morning in Coal Harbour which lies along the south of Stanley Park. One morning in February, around 5am we were carrying the shell down to the dock. It was nasty cold and their was ice on the dock – one wrong step and one of our team went sliding across the dock and into the freezing water. We pulled her out as quickly as we could and hustled her back into the boat house to see if there were any spare clothes that she could change into. Once we had her relatively warm and dry, we realized that there would be no practice that morning. We packed up the shell and our gear and we climbed into our assorted cars to head off to the university to get ready for morning classes. The boathouse was right at the entrance to the park but to leave we had to drive all the way around the park as the road was one way. The sun was just starting to peak up over the city and the park glowed with a pink tinge. As we drove past the area of the park that hosted the totems each of us slowed down to look. Under the totems there were a couple of refrigerators, three ovens and a dishwasher. It seemed to be the most bizarre and random thing you could imagine. One of the team, when we got to school, called the police and told them. She found out that the appliances were likely stolen and had been left there for the “fence” to pick up. For whatever reason he/she never showed.

And don’t forget to check out my new blog – My Sicilian Home!

Happy Happy Joy Joy

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So, I am guessing that some of you thought that I dropped off the face of the earth.  No such thing.  In fact, my feet have been firmly planted on the ground (or butt planted on the couch – but that has more to do with flu than anything else, ‘nuther story).  But I have not been lint gathering or navel gazing and I have a real excuse (if not a real good excuse) for not having posted for a while.

Three weeks ago, Nick and I took a spring break trip to Vancouver.  We had a couple of errands that needed doing, I wanted to take Nick and my daughter and her boyfriend out for a birthday dinner, and it gave us a chance to visit some friends and family we hadn’t seen for quite some time.  Before we came to Vancouver, my very dear friend, Leslie, offered to let us stay in her townhouse even though she would be away.  Now, Leslie and I have been friends since dinosaurs walked the earth.  In case you were wondering, dinosaurs walked the earth 33 years ago.  We met listening to Boy Georgeosaurus and watching music videos by Michael Jackoraptor in the campus pub. Or something like that.  I can’t remember – it was so long ago and I have menopause brain.  Anyhow, as it turned out we both ended up working in high schools as teacher-librarians and teaching social justice to our students.  BTW, Leslie was away in Cambodia with her students volunteering with an NGO that gives alternate opportunities to women in the sex trade.  Important work.  Kudos to Leslie and her students!

But back to Vancouver.  After a very nice visit, we packed up, double checked to make sure we had everything and then drove out to the ferry back to Vancouver Island.  Now, I must pause here.  For my whole life I have suffered from a serious genetic condition.  I have the “Leave-Things-Behind” gene clinging to my double helix.  I have been leaving things behind since it was possible for me to drop my soother on the ground.  This trip was no different.  We drove onto the ferry, hopped on the ferry elevator to the top deck and settled ourselves into a couple of comfy chairs.  I pulled out my laptop.  “Oh dear,” I said to Nick, “my laptop is nearly dead.  I’d better get out my power cord.”  Guess what.  Nick and I had walked past my power cord at least 4 times and neither of us had noticed it nor picked it up.  So, my laptop died and I had to wait three weeks for Leslie to get back from Cambodia and mail my power cord to me.  Which she did. Thank  you Leslie!  And here I am, laptop charged, and finally posting.  Thus my title.  Happy happy joy joy!

Over the next week or so, I think I will post some of the photos (like the ones above and below) that I took in Vancouver.  It’s easy to see why Vancouver is considered one of the loveliest cities in the world.

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